Quantifying the role of oceanic storminess in determining the survival and recruitment of long-distance, oversea, migratory birds

Avian migration is largely understood from studies based on terrestrial birds but there is a noticeable gap in literature on migration patterns in long-lived seabirds and birds that migrate over open oceans. Seabirds are excellent biological indicators of ocean health because they forage at sea and make massive distances every year to migrate from their breeding grounds to their overwintering grounds and back again. Such journeys often take some time (days to months) and many journeys cover thousands of miles, during which oversea meteorological conditions and sea state may have an important, stochastic, role to play on migration patterns by either impeding or facilitating a migrant’s survival and population recruitment, which may vary according to bird experience i.e. age.

However, the consequences of environmental variability is poorly understood and questions still remain on the behaviour of the individual during migration, where they choose to navigate to and the influence of oceanic storms and weather changes on the survival and population recruitment. This project will study the population and survival of three migratory birds: Manx shearwaters (Puffinus puffinus) on Lighthouse Island at the Copeland Bird Observatory, Northern Ireland, which circumnavigate the Atlantic Ocean flying 10,000 km to overwinter in the Argentinean coast and breed in Britain and Ireland; Northern fulmars (Fulmarus glacialis) on Eynhallow, Orkney, Scotland, overwinter along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge 3,000 km from their breeding grounds in Scotland; and barnacle geese (Branta leucopsis) in the west coasts of Ireland, which breed in Arctic Greenland and overwinter in Ireland over a distance of 2,000 km. For this I will use long-term annual time-series datasets of capture-mark-recapture modelling techniques which contain 100,000s of bird ringing records of these three migrant species to estimate the annual survival probabilities, population estimates and growth rates, and analyse this with meteorological conditions derived from remotely-sensed satellite data and ocean buoys, which they would have experienced at various stages of their migration. This project offers the opportunity to ask fundamental questions about how migration patterns in birds over open oceans interact with environmental variability and the consequences for individuals and populations using exceptional long-term datasets. Furthermore, this project will put in place a monitoring and surveillance protocol to estimate abundance and change in abundance over time.

Grant reference
Natural Environment Research Council
Total awarded
£0 GBP
Start date
30 Sep 2019
3 years 6 months
End date
30 Mar 2023